One of the things I missed most in Paris was good Japanese food. Although there’s plenty of delicious ramen restaurants in the Japanese neighborhood on rue Saint-Anne in the 1st arrondissement, what I had really been missing was sushi. Most of the sushi I’ve had in Paris has been…disappointing. And that’s quite an understatement.
So one of the first things I asked my mom upon my arrival in Taiwan was if we could go eat again at Sono, probably one of the best Japanese restaurants I’d ever eaten at. Since its opening in 1987, it has become Taichung’s most well-known Japanese restaurant and is also the oldest Japanese restaurant in the city. It is also known for giving diners a very ~zen~ experience.
The last time I was at Sono was during my last trip here two years ago. Every time I see live jumbo shrimp at the market all I can think of is eating that sucker raw because the first time I had raw shrimp was at Sono and it was so sweet, with no salty sea taste, and an unexpected creamy texture. Other than the fact that the meal was delicious, the raw shrimp was the only other thing I remembered about this place. Oh, and Oscar winning director Ang Lee dines here. NBD.
To remind myself of how good this place was, I decided to go for the second-tier omakase lunch menu. Nowadays, when we think omakase, we think of a progressive tasting menu where the chef makes whatever he wants that day to showcase his creative and culinary talents. Traditionally, however, omakase was only ordered by regulars of a sushi restaurant because traditionally, omakase is a meal the chef creates specifically for the client who ordered it, depending on the likes and tastes of the customer.
It seems now that omakase is a trendy thing to order (if you have the means) because it was such an exclusive thing. Of course, restaurants would want to capitalize on that. And I’m totally fine with it because it means I get to taste special dishes and creations that are made only that day. This is supposed to mean that if I were to eat at Sono, or any other Japanese restaurant offering omakase, two days in a row, I’d be eating two completely different meals. Definitely a food experiment I should try.
So on to my omakase! The second-tier omakase menu came with 7 dishes, plus a little fruit plate to finish the meal. In all honesty, I don’t remember what all these were called, or made of, but they were delicious! All of these dishes were also presented to me in Chinese, and although I can speak the language, many of the terms used were quite foreign to me, resulting in a shrug and shove in mouth effect (which is a feeling I’m sure everyone has experienced). So, I will try my best to describe these dishes, but no promises. Just know that if you’re ever in Taichung and craving delicious sushi and/or Japanese cuisine, Sono is the place to go.
To start, some delicious slices of raw fish (2 slices of salmon, one slice of otoro tuna, and I’m not sure what the white slice was) and oysters marinated in vinegar. The fish was extremely fresh and when eating sashimi, that’s really all that matters. If the fish isn’t fresh there’s usually a salty, briny, unappetizing sea taste. You just know you’re eating not-so-fresh sashimi when you encounter it. None of these slices had that taste; in fact they had a specific type of sweetness that is specific to fresh seafood.
Three little spoonfuls of seafood snacks: from bottom going clockwise, sweet, dried anchovies; abalone; cubes of salmon eggs with wasabi-mayo. I loved the fact that the little cubes of salmon eggs seemed to pop in my mouth as I munched on them. I’m generally not a fan of mayo, but it worked with the saltiness of the eggs and the slight burn from the wasabi. I’m also usually not an anchovies person, but I loved the way these anchovies were dried out and marinated in a sweet soy and sesame sauce.
This was probably my favorite part of the omakase. It looks a little ominous because of what seems like some sort of oil slick, but it was anything but. This is a truffle oil over steamed egg. The steamed egg was a surprise and brought me back to my childhood when my mother would make me steamed egg whenever I was sick. The truffle oil was rather mild in flavor, but that worked well paired with the steamed egg. I was a little confused by the random slice of raw bell pepper and one floating snap pea, but hey, gotta get your veggies. And the scallop was overcooked, but I’ve noticed that people here seem to prefer their proteins a bit more on the cooked side, so maybe it’s just a cultural taste thing, not a fault in the chef’s technique. Despite this, this was still my favorite part of the course simply because anything that’s a mixture of childhood and sophistication is just merveilleux.
SHRIMP! It seems to be something Sono does quite well as the shrimp was cooked perfectly. The shrimp tail part was split open, covered in Japanese mayo, then baked. The first few bites were very balanced, especially with the juice from the lime wedge. The saltiness from the seasonings and seaweed flakes on top complemented the sweet creaminess of the mayo (Japanese mayo is a little sweeter than its American and French counterparts). I was really looking for a crunch element, as a textural contrast, and maybe less mayo or perhaps more seaweed flakes because halfway through eating this little guy, the sweetness and creaminess of the mayo overpowered the flavor and freshness of the shrimp.
I wasn’t sure exactly what this fish was, but it was a little too fatty for my taste. I general prefer a less oily sashimi, such as salmon or tuna. Otoro (tuna belly sashimi, a component of the first dish) is usually my limit for how greasy sashimi is. This fish, in my opinion, was quite a bit greasier than otoro, plus had a slight fishy taste. The fishy taste wasn’t from the fish being unfresh, but rather, some fish just simply taste fishier than others. The pickled ginger helped balance the fishiness a bit, but even with the ginger, this fish was too fishy and greasy for my taste.
Totally unexpected. A little hot pot course in the middle of the meal. This is called “kami nabe” which literally means paper pot because well, there’s a very sturdy piece of paper, made of “washi” (dense Japanese paper also used for traditional paper art), lining the pot filled with water and vegetables. There is a special kind of coating on the paper which keeps the temperature below 160°C, allowing for soup to bubble away merrily over an open flame without burning the paper.
I was pretty amazed by this contraption and probably spent just as much time staring at it trying to figure out its mystical secret as enjoying the soup it produced. I appreciated that this
dish pot came after two dishes that I considered quite fatty. It was a nice break from the grease. Plus, the vegetables were fresh and the broth that came about was light and full of good veggie flavors.
By far the most beautiful dish, but also one that confused me. A rose of sashimi without any wasabi on the plate. Hmm…maybe I was supposed to just eat it with soy sauce and some of the green onion or maybe with that leaf? Sushi purists will eat fresh, high quality sashimi with just a little smidge of soy sauce so as not to overpower the taste of the fish with wasabi. However, I’m not a fan of this type of sashimi since I find it a little too veiny. So this fish ended up going for a dunk in the soup at the suggestion of my mother. I’m sure we made some sushi purists turn in their graves.
All in all, a very satisfying meal. Of course there were dishes I preferred over others, but that’s what happens with omakase is made without a chef’s prior knowledge of your tastes. However, I was happy to be able to taste and experience all these new flavors, techniques, and foods all within one meal sitting. Needless to say, I left Sono with a satisfied belly and a hunger to try more of the fine
Japanese fare foods that Taichung has to offer.
No. 19, Lane 229, MinQuan Rd, North District
Hours: 11:30 am-2 pm, 5:30-9:30 pm